Remembering a champion for early childhood education

Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand farewells a staunch advocate for early childhood education and care with the passing of our life member Mary Alice Bramwell.

Mary Bramwell was a champion for equitable funding, recognition and quality in childcare and early childhood education in New Zealand over many years.

Born in the north of England in 1945, Mary came to New Zealand as a mother of three, with a fourth on the way. The family settled in the Waikato, where Mary’s involvement with Playcentre during the 1970s awakened her to new ways of thinking about parenting, child development and learning. She worked for the Department of Education as preschool advisor and studied education and women’s studies at university.

In 1980, Mary began working in childcare and soon began to understand the problems facing the sector – the lack of government commitment to childcare delivery or quality, and lack of funding for childcare services. In the book, Life Stories on the Frontline, Mary is quoted saying: “I started to understand the problems. I discovered I was now in a profession that was literally at the bottom of the heap. My ire was raised of course.”  

Mary quickly became active in the childcare movement. She joined the NZ Childcare Association (now Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood NZ) and was elected to the Executive in 1981. In 1982, Mary was employed by the Association as an Area Training Supervisor. Mary also joined the fledgling Early Childhood Workers Union and in 1982 she represented staff on the negotiating team for the Union’s first multi-site award.  

Working alongside and learning from influential Māori women involved with childcare and the Association, Mary started to learn what it meant to be bicultural. She was president of the Childcare Association from 1989 to 1992, during changes that reflected the organisation’s growing commitment to biculturalism and more equitable outcomes for all tamariki.  

Speaking at a members’ conference in 1990, the year the organisation become Te Tari Puna Ora O Aotearoa and established a new constitution with five Rūnunga members, Mary said: “Māori people have reached their hands to us across a chasm and Pākeha, if we don’t reach out and take the hand, it will be withdrawn and we will fall into the chasm.”

Mary remained active in early childhood education and many other parts of her community for many years. She passed away surrounded by the love of her whānau on 14 June, 2022.

E te māreikura e Mary Bramwell, haere hoki atu rā, ki roto i te korowai a ōu tūpuna. Kore koe e warewarehia e mātou. Ka ora tōnu ngā kaupapa i kaha koe ki te hāpai hei painga mō ngā tamariki katoa. Waihotia mai mātou ki te hikoi tonu i te kaupapa whakahirahira mō ngā uri o ngā rangatira mō āpōpō. Rest in peace. 

It is with much sadness we farewell Mary Bramwell. Tēnā koe Mary an esteemed friend and treasure, return within the warmth of your tūpūna embrace. You will never be forgotten. Your memory will continue to live on as we recall the many hours and commitment you gave to the little children. We will continue on this path to ensure that we provide a path for our leaders for tomorrow. E moe, e moe, e moe.